Being a lifelong dieter I can’t tell you how hard it has been for me to keep going on this road to “normal” eating. Every time I ate something without thinking, something considered bad or an item of clothing felt tight, my mind was telling me to go back to dieting. I kept reading the reviews of the latest “last diet ever” book and scanned the newspapers for articles that would lead me to the holy grail: the diet that would work without effort, without me changing anything, and suddenly everything would be all right in the world. It was hard, so hard, for me to drop these habits, to change, to accept.
But now I think I am getting there. I am not “cured” (I think I’ll always be a dieter inside but trying to ignore that nagging voice) but I am feeling more comfortable, both physically but probably more important mentally and emotionally. I think I have managed, most of the time, to put food in its place, to not obsess, to think about other more important things but like many people who have given up smoking there is always a temptation, a pull back towards these habits, these behaviours that have filled so much of my adult life. I think I will have to continue being vigilant, maybe forever, but I can live with that as it’s such a watered-down version of what I have been doing.
I started all this work because I wanted to give up dieting. I had spent too much of my life thinking about food and weight, and not thinking about things that mattered more. I wasted too much energy.
If I am honest I hoped that I would end up smaller, I wanted to be able to eat like a “normal” person, enjoy my food but not be consumed by it (joke intended). I wanted to be the person I hoped to be every time I started on a diet but what if that was never going to happen? What if this is it? This is who I am and what I look like? Well having thought about it I can cope with that. Maybe it’s being a bit (well, a lot really) older but I just haven’t got the time or energy to waste on this anymore. If this is who I am and what I look like then that’s something I can deal with. I’m ok. I am good enough.
I was thinking about this when I was watching a programme on TV about addiction and it seems so much of why people went down this road is because they didn’t think they were good enough. Of course there were many different stories but that seemed to be at the root of them all. So what happens if we just decide we’re ok, we are good enough and skip all the years of self doubt and hurt? No, I’m not saying it’s easy and everyone can do it, but when I look back on all those years and know that I ended up heavier than when I first started I can see it is a futile path to walk down. And it seems that self acceptance is at the root of it all. So for today at least I know that I am good enough.
When I was writing before I presented a summary of the things that have worked for me. I didn’t want to put forward a formula: follow this and everything else will fall into place because I know that what works for one person (me) doesn’t necessarily work for another (you). You have to work it out for yourself and I think that means not really having rules, it means winging it, making it up as you go along.
As I see it, and experience it, the problem is with rules, especially diet rules is you are either on it or you’re off it and if you’re off it you’d better make the most of those times because you’ll be back on it before you know and then you won’t be able to eat all those banned, “bad” foods. Take me with alcohol for example: I gave myself a rule that I wouldn’t drink alcohol three nights a week. Now that might seem pretty easy for a lot of people but when you come from a background with a large amount of alcohol floating around and an alcoholic parent this rule was meant to keep me safe, keep me from going the same way. BUT the problem with this rule is that when I had nights that I was “allowed” to drink I made sure I got my quota because I knew the restriction was coming. Am I making sense so far?
And it’s the same with eating: if I knew I was going back on a diet tomorrow, if I had a set of rules to follow, when I decided not to follow the rules I had to eat or drink as much as possible to make up the famine I knew I was going to impose on myself
So now so more rules. On Saturday I had one glass of wine and decided I didn’t want any more. Now I don’t diet, I eat what I like but make a choice whether to eat something or not. I have made my own guidelines but if I don’t stick to them or you decide they’re not for you it doesn’t matter. Not one bit.
It’s all beginning to make sense but even typing that sentence makes me feel nervous as I think it’s an indicator that things are going to go wrong. Like yesterday for example. I have been feeling pretty good about things, that I am getting things sorted mentally, that I am moving away from my obsession with all things to do with my body/weight/eating, I have been feeling better and I was looking forward to an evening at home alone.
Now having brought up a large family and now living with my husband who works part time I don’t get much time totally alone. There always seems to be somewhere to go, someone to see so the idea of a bit of isolation is always something I have cherished. I know I am lucky that I have people and that spending time on my own is a choice not where I ended up but it feels like something special.
And what have I done in the past with this glorious “me” time? Well, you won’t be surprised to know that it usually revolved around food. I would treat myself to my favourite dinner, buy myself a pudding and spend the evening eating whatever I liked. Now I don’t mean that I spent the whole evening simply eating but my idea of self care was food (and sometimes alcohol). That was how I treated myself, made myself feel special, showed myself value, made myself feel good. Except, of course, often it didn’t work like that. I would eat more than normal, feel uncomfortable, go to be feeling disappointed in myself and wake up feeling bloated and guilty. And, as you know, I don’t do those things any more.
So last night when the door closed and I was alone I started feeling really edgy. I had hyped up this time to myself but without the food ritual I felt a bit lost. What could I do? How could I fill my evening? I realised (once again) how big a part food has played in my life and how much space there is now. It was a hot evening so I didn’t want to do anything physical, I wanted to just sit and read, but food kept calling to me, no food in particular but just food in general, I suppose the idea I should be eating, but I resisted. I kept telling myself that this was simply mouth hunger, a habit, something that I could resist because I wasn’t actually hungry and it worked. I ate a salad and an orange, had a small glass of wine and then stopped. I didn’t need anything else and most of all I didn’t need to negative stuff that came with it. It feels like another step forward.
I hardly ever read over anything I have written after I have posted it. I am (normally) harsh enough on myself without further self examination and criticism but then I wonder whether I am repeating myself, contradicting myself, being certain one day, full of doubt the next but then I realised this is just part of me and part of being human.
I have meandered along a road to try to make peace with myself, my body, my eating, my self image. I didn’t start out, find a solution and reach the end. At some stages I was wandering in the same circular thoughts of my own making whilst wondering how I could ever move on, other times I felt certain, things seemed right and I felt better.
I was thinking about all this because I was trying to summarise what I have learned in my own mind, and if I could what advice could I pass onto others. The world is full of dieting advice, most of which I have attempted to follow (unsuccessfully) over the years, so I don’t want to add another voice of “shoulds” and “musts” to that list that feels like you are being told off, you’re not good enough, no matter what you do. You’ve got to work out a way that works for you, that allows you to enjoy food and eating as part of life, that allows you to spend your energy on other things, you’ve got to learn to like and even love yourself and enjoy your life. If enjoying your life means you are constantly eating when you’re not hungry or eating too much then maybe you need to stop and ask yourself why. You need to find out who you are, you need to realise after all these years of dieting that actually you are an ok sort of person. I am using the word “you” but I am not telling other people what to do I am merely listing the things I have done that I think work for me. They might work for you too.
It’s funny (well not that funny) looking back that so much of what I am doing now I knew all along. Well, I knew it but didn’t want to know it. I suppose I was always looking for a way to eat without thinking and staying slim so I ignored all the sense I read and heard because it didn’t fit in with that desire, I didn’t want to do the work.
But now, all these months later, I realise that it isn’t hard, I don’t need to deprive myself but I just have to honest with myself: am I really hungry and if I am what do I want to eat? Eating has been a pastime, a hobby, a way of not living my life and a way of distracting myself because having to lose weight before I could (add any expression here that suits) was a way of excusing myself, of not being aware of how all right I was already, was a way of not living.
But no more. I realise how much of my life has revolved around food because I didn’t want to deal with the real stuff, but take away that obsession with food and all that’s left is the stuff I need to deal with. And do you know what? That feels ok.
All this time I have been thinking about how I look, how other people are judging me on the size and proportions of my body. Of course I realise that most people have at least 1,000,000 other things to do that are more important to them but being fixated on the way I appeared to the world and so quick to make these judgments about others I assumed this was what was important. I would look at people in the street and constantly be asking myself “is that what I look like?”. I didn’t know how I appeared physically to other people and couldn’t trust my feelings about my body because that, along with my appetite, had been drowned in a sea of dieting dogma and images of “ideal” women in the media. I didn’t know what I was, how I felt, or what I looked like.
But in the midst of making sense of all this, finding my place in world, knowing who I was, a small thought was growing in my head and now I can see that thought and understand how true it is. That thought it how much better I have been feeling. I think I’ve written before about having a number of health issues and they remain lurking in the background of my mind but since I have fully adopted this way of eating I have been sleeping better (for the first time since I had children 30 years ago), my stomach feels better, it seems to like the food I am eating and though I can’t do as much as I would like to do because of other issues, my day-to-day functioning in life seems better. I am busy and I am coping. I feel that I have taken a small step towards accepting myself as I am and by eating this way, by stepping away from the dieting madness, that I am finally starting to know who I am.